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Study Shows: Physical Therapy Offers Patients Good Value

It's no secret that prices have been going up. Gas is expensive. Food is expensive. Housing prices have skyrocketed. If you're looking for ways to stretch your dollars, a new study suggests physical therapy might be one of the best values.

Physical Therapy Saves Costs
A study that looked at the claims data of 472,000 Medicare beneficiaries with back pain found that when physical therapy was the first treatment, costs were 19% lower than when people got injections first and 75% lower than for people who were sent straight to surgery. The study also found that in the year following diagnosis, people who got physical therapy first had costs 18% lower than those who got injections, and 54% lower than those in the surgery group.

Another example is the Virginia Mason Health Center in Seattle teaming up with Aetna and Starbucks in 2006. Workers with back pain were sent to see both a physical therapist (PT) and physician for their first treatment. Use of MRI dropped by 1/3; people got better faster, missed less work and were more satisfied with their care. The cost savings was so great that Virginia Mason was losing money on treating back pain, so Aetna ended up paying them more for physical therapy treatments because they were saving so much money.

Physical Therapy First Means Fewer Visits
A paper published in Physical Therapy looked at outcomes when patients went to a PT first versus seeing a physician first for back pain. It found that patients who went to their physician first needed 33 physical therapy visits on average, while those who went to their physical therapist first only needed 20. Seeing a PT first saves money, but it also saves time.

It Also Means Better Outcomes
A study of 150,000 insurance claims published in Health Services Research, found that those who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89% lower probability of receiving an opioid prescription, a 28% lower probability of having advanced imaging services, and a 15% lower probability of an emergency department visit.

Research consistently shows that taking advantage of direct access and getting to a physical therapist quickly leads to better outcomes in fewer visits with lower costs. In today’s economy and given the importance of one’s health, that is a value patients should take advantage of.

Want to learn more about how physical therapy could help you? Call us at 978-452-9252 today.


1. https://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2010/11/03/4743604/0_ANovelPlanHelpsHospitalWeanItselfOffOfPriceyTests.pdf 
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33245117/ 
3. https://www.apta.org/news/2017/07/26/study-says-cost-savings-of-physical-therapy-for-lbp-are-significant#:~:text=Researchers%20say%20that%20not%20only,over%20treatments%20that%20begin%20with 
4. https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/77/1/10/2633027?login=true 
5. https://newsroom.uw.edu/news/early-physical-therapy-benefits-low-back-pain-patients 

A version of this article is taken from The American Physical Therapy Association.

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